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Homily for 27 (A) 2014
“The kingdom of God will be taken from you.”
Today our readings are full of talk about vineyards and talk of vineyards is always encouraging. Except, of course, for the fact that we are threatened with being dispossessed of our vineyard if we do not give to the Father his share of the produce. The parable is evident one, seen from our point of view, because we know what happened to Jesus, and we understand the irony in this story as he tells it to the chief priests and the elders of the people. Jesus is, of course, the son whom the landowner has sent, and the chief priest and elders are the wicked tenants who will turn on him and kill him. They are the ones who will be dispossessed of the Kingdom. The message to us is clear: don’t be like them – respond to God’s generosity and welcome his Son, or we will find ourselves in the same fix.
In our first reading, the metaphor is rather different. Here the vineyard itself represents the people that God has favoured, and from whom he expects love and obedience and not ‘sour grapes’. It is possible, I suppose to put an ecological slant on all this and see the reading as an appeal for a responsible custody of the environment. I don’t know about you, but I am a bit of a reluctant ecologist and tend to panic when my ability to eat steak is threatened by the fact that cows are environment-unfriendly because they emit methane. I am so unteachable that even the vision of the eructations (and worse) of cows warming up the planet does not remove my desire to eat beef, in as large a variety and quantity as I can get my hands on. All this is accompanied by the feeling that everyone else apart from me should be more ecologically responsible and that the Japanese are rotten to eat the whales who make beautiful music in the mighty oceans of our planet. I digress, as usual. I am getting better, making personal efforts to be ecologically responsible, because God wants to look after the world in which we live. The picture in the book of Genesis is quite clear – we are called to be masters of the earth, of all the plants and animals, but we are called to this mastery within the orbit of God’s gracious letting-be. We are not to abuse creation, but to make it flourish. This ecological reading of our scripture today, is however, part of a much bigger picture. It is not only our relationship with the natural environment which calls for our responsible stewardship, but also our relationship with our fellow human beings and with Jesus Christ.
Now, at the end of September, All Saints celebrated its Harvest Festival. The harvest of crops, of good things from the natural world is an important and blessed gift, and it is right that we celebrate it - but let us not neglect the spiritual harvest, and the harvest of good works, the harvest of grace. Where poverty and alienation are alleviated or brought to an end, there is a true harvest; where pain and sickness are overcome by healing and compassion, there is a true harvest; where hatred and mistrust are ended by love and reconciliation there is a true harvest; where sin and addiction are overcome by the freedom that comes from a return to obedience to the Father who loves us, there is a true harvest; where ugliness and coarseness of expression and being are transformed by the experience of beauty and transcendence that art, music, poetry bring, there is a true harvest. Where a just proportion of our income is dedicated to the work of the church, there is a true harvest. This ecology of deeds and spirit is the one which Paul commends to us today:
"Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you."
The secret of doing this, is, of course, in nurturing our relationship with the Lord. Paul, in the sentence which precedes the quotation that I have just used speaks of the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This is the primary relationship. All good responsible ecology is about relationship. Our relationship with the environment, our relationship with our brothers and sisters, our relationship with our God. If we get our faith right, then we will receive the tools that we need to build the other relationships according to the mind of God – relationships of nurturing care, rather than of systematic exploitation. It is wonderful to see a flower grow, but it is even more wonderful to see a human being grow, especially if that growth is not just physical, but also spiritual, emotional and intellectual. If we can help our brothers and sisters find the peace of God and continue to preach, teach and live the values of the kingdom, then we will not only have enhanced the physical environment, but also everything that lies behind it, sustains it and forms it. We won’t be offering the Father sour grapes, but rather all that he needs to make one of his very finest wines. And that sounds good to me.